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Fireside Chats at the Arboretum

Schedule and location

Following state recommendations to help slow the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), this program has been cancelled. For refund and more information, visit the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Preparedness and Prevention webpage.   


Founder’s Room
10:00 to 11:30 a.m.

  • Section A: Wednesday, January 22, 2020
  • Section B: Wednesday, February 5, 2020
  • Section C: Wednesday, February 19, 2020
  • Section D: Wednesday, March 4, 2020
  • Section E: Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Fees and registration

$12.00 member
$16.00 nonmember
(Fees include admission to the Arboretum)

Course description

Warm up the winter with engaging talks on history, ecology, art, literature, and more by Arboretum and visiting experts. Circle up around the fireplace in the historic Founder’s Room in Thornhill Education Center, and enjoy an hour-long talk followed by a Q&A with the week’s featured speaker.

January 22: Curating a Collection of the World’s Trees

Speaker: Matt Lobdell
Museum curators collect and care for artifacts and art pieces. When you’re the curator of a tree museum, however, collecting looks a little different! The Morton Arboretum’s curator, Matt Lobdell, regularly heads out to far-flung places in search of rare tree seeds that he brings back to grow here on our grounds. In this talk, Matt will talk about plant collecting past and present, why the Arboretum collects plants, and the unique challenges and opportunities of curating a collection of trees and shrubs.

As the Curator of The Morton Arboretum’s Living Plant Collections, Matt’s selects plant species for cultivation across the grounds of the Arboretum. He is also building  the Arboretum’s Nationally Accredited Collections in maples, crabapples, oaks, lindens, and elms. He sees the Arboretum’s collections as a “living gene bank,” cultivating endangered or rare species to help conserve and grow them for future generations.

February 5: Send in the Drones

Speaker: Chuck Cannon, director of the Center for Tree Science
If technology can put a person on the moon, what could it do for trees? While it’s common to think of technology and nature as acting in opposition, there are many ways that technology can help us better understand nature. Dr. Chuck Cannon talks about how the Arboretum is using new technology to uncover the mysteries that trees hold in their canopies, and what the future might hold.

As the director of the Center for Tree Science, Dr. Chuck Cannon has a broad perspective on forests and all of the things that live in them. His work has taken him to over a dozen countries and involved a wide range of scientific endeavors, from new species discovery to creating forest management policy. He leads the tree scientists at the Arboretum and connects and motivates a large network of global collaborators in the shaping and expansion of our knowledge of trees and forests around the world.

February 19: The Wild Lives of Houseplants

Speaker: Allyson Salisbury
Do you know where your favorite houseplant came from? The answer isn't a big box hardware store. Your houseplant might have evolved in African rainforests or perhaps the deserts of North America. And thanks to their fascinating origins, these plants can also survive on your windowsill.

In this talk, Dr. Allyson Salisbury will guide you on an exploration of the native habitats and ecology of some common houseplants, their unique adaptations and how understanding where houseplants come from can give us clues about how to best care for them.

Dr. Allyson Salisbury is an environmental scientist who is broadly interested in how we use plants and ecological knowledge to help plants grow better in highly disturbed environments and manage pollution. To do this she uses techniques from plant physiology and soil science to examine relationships between plants and urban soils. As the postdoctoral researcher on the Illinois Tollway Project, Allyson is responsible for implementing a multi-year research project aimed at improving management practices for growing trees in highway settings.

March 4: It Takes a Village to Save a Forest 

Speaker: Silvia Alvarez Clare
Dr. Alvarez-Clare will share how the Global Tree Conservation Program staff work with scientists, farmers, and land- managers to save threatened oak species from extinction in biodiversty hotspots, such as Mexico and Central America. 

Dr. Alvarez-Clare studies how environmental changes, such as changes in soil nutrients and climatic conditions affect plant communities, mainly in tropical biodiversity hotspots. She strives to translate her research into scientifically informed conservation actions that will aid in saving tree species from extinction. Part of her work within the Global Tree Conservation Program involves coordinating the Latin America Programs. She also serves as the academic mentor for the Center for Tree Science, where she is a Co-PI in the recently funded Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program.

March 25: Adding Up the Green: The Value of Chicagoland’s Trees 

Speaker: Chai-Shian Kua
One hundred and fifty seven million trees grow in Chicago and its surrounding suburbs. How do we know? We count them! As the United States conducts its 2020 census, the Arboretum, in cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service, will be conducting one of its own--a tree census! In this talk, Dr. Chai-Shian Kua will talk about what it means to conduct a tree census, and why we do it. Learn how collecting information about the urban forest in our cities and suburbs can give us the intel we need to protect and nurture it. 

Dr. Chai-Shian Kua is The Morton Arboretum’s Scientific Liaison for the Center for Tree Science and the Coordinator for the Global Tree Conservation program in Asia. She is also an adjunct Associate Professor at the Shanghai-Morton Joint Urban Tree Lab.  Chai-Shian works with colleagues from  botanical gardens, universities, and other sectors to identify collaborative opportunities and execute research and applied projects.

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Fireside Chats at the Arboretum